Focusing on regime trajectories across the former Soviet Union, Pluralism by Default posits that political competition in "new democracies" has often been grounded less in well-designed institutions, democratic leaders, or emerging civil society and more in the failure of authoritarianism. Lucan Way contends that pluralism has persisted in many cases because autocrats lack the organization, authority, or coordination to steal elections, impose censorship, repress opposition, or keep allies in line.
Attention to the dynamics of this "pluralism by default" reveals a largely unrecognized contradiction in the transition process: the same factors that facilitate democratic and semi-democratic political competition may also thwart the development of stable, well-functioning democratic institutions. National divisions or weak states and parties—typically seen as impediments to democracy—can also stymie efforts to crack down on political opposition and concentrate control. Way demonstrates that the features that have made Ukraine the most democratic country in the former Soviet Union also contributed to the country’s extreme dysfunction and descent into war in 2014.